“Social media optimisation” - Q&A at news:rewired

Martin Belam by Martin Belam, 17 February 2012

A couple of weeks ago I was part of a panel session talking about social media optimisation at news:rewired. I was talking about the Guardian’s Facebook app, and the rest of the panel consisted of Darren Waters from MSN, the BBC’s Chris Hamilton, and Nate Lanxon of Wired. My notes from their sessions are here, here and here respectively. Here are some points that came out of the Q&A that followed the talks.

LinkedIn is a dark horse

I believe that LinkedIn is a social media dark horse that most news organisations are ignoring. Facebook might have a younger audience, and Twitter might be faster-paced and more visible, but LinkedIn have quietly built up a huge amount of data about a massive number of people, what their skills are, who their connections are. Crucially that means they know what B2B news might be of interest to them. They have been hiring editorial staff and have launched LinkedIn social news services.

Teens, Facebook and privacy

A couple of questions touched upon issues of privacy around frictionless sharing and Facebook, and what this means for young people on the platform. I think adults have an unintentionally warped view of what kids do on Facebook. I posted last week about “Three things adults need to know about teens, Facebook and privacy

This is not MySpace

When I edited an ebook about Facebook for the Guardian recently, I found a great bit in an article by Bobbie Johnson from 2007, which describes Rupert Murdoch joking about the prospect that one day Facebook might overtake MySpace, as if it was the unlikeliest thing in the world.

It happened.

Many people have taken the demise of MySpace or Friendster or FriendsReunited as a sign that Facebook will eventually be superseded by a better, nimbler, cooler social network.

But I think that Facebook might be “the one”.

Not necessarily the best social network. Or the best user experience. Or the most innovative company in the space.

But like Google, Amazon and eBay, they find themselves to be the incumbent at the point where their type of activity appears to have become a de facto standard for interacting on the web. Shifting me and a few “early adopter” friends to Pinterest or Instagram or “the next big thing(TM)”, fine - but shifting my dad and my grandma and my aunt across - tough ask.

Facebook doesn’t follow the news cycle

Nate Lanxon talked about finding the optimum time to post on Facebook. What I have found so interesting, after years of working in news media, is that Facebook traffic - or the Guardian’s chunk of it anyway - doesn’t particularly follow the news agenda.

The shape of the curve of daily traffic is different to that you typically see on a news site, with a pronounced little kick up around 4pm every day, and the weekend barely dips at all.

We see some days when our Facebook traffic will spike off the back of a video of an amazing own goal, or an article like “Top five regrets of the dying”, when the main website itself is having a slow news day.

How frictionless is frictionless sharing

The functionality of “frictionless sharing” has deeply polarised opinion. My own personal take is that with only a small number of apps using the functionality, the brands using it, which include the Guardian, have been very noticeable. This will fade as more and more apps enter the market.Facebook’s algorithms will also get better at working out which aggregations of activity work best in the news feed for users.

I also think, in twelve months time, the Guardian’s implementation of “frictionless sharing”, which comes with several caveats and opt-outs, will appear to be one of the gentler ones.

If you can’t measure it, you don’t know what success is

There was some scepticism on the panel that the huge numbers generated by the Facebook Insights tool are mostly of value to “social media gurus” putting them on PowerPoint slides to justify consulting fees, than a genuine indication of how a business could influence behaviour on the platform.

Most people were also using something like Omniture or Google Analytics to track activity in the social media sphere.

The most important thing though, is if you can’t measure it, you don’t know what success is.

Publishing to a platform is not success, nor are follower numbers. Success is about engagement and, as Liz Heron said when opening news:rewired, about positive journalistic outcomes.

This is one of a series of blog posts featuring my notes from news:rewired:
“Did we get something of journalistic value?” - Liz Heron
“The Guardian’s Facebook app” - Martin Belam
“Great for users. Great for publishers. And great for Apple” - Alex Watson
“The Economist’s shift to digital”- Tom Standage
“The alchemy of media business model innovation” - François Nel
“Social media, investigative journalism, ethics and security” - Nicola Hughes
“Less is more - social media at the BBC” - Chris Hamilton
“Watch this (social) space...” - Darren Waters
“Me and my big photo of Mark Zuckerberg” - Nate Lanxon
“Social media optimisation” - Q&A

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